Skeletons, also known as Allegory of Death and Fame, 1518. Agostino Veneziano (Italian, 1490-1540), after Rosso Fiorentino (Italian, 1494-1540). Engraving; sheet: 30.9 x 50.8 cm (12 3/16 x 20 in.); secondary support: 41.2 x 61.2 cm (16 1/4 x 24 1/8 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1993.8
Although for centuries scholars have attempted to understand the allegorical meaning of this print, 16th-century artist and author Giorgio Vasari described it simply as “an anatomy of desiccated nudes and of bones of the dead.” A central figure of winged Death stands over an interred skeleton, surrounded by a variety of skeletal and living human figures who appear to debate the fate of the soul. At far left is a “marasmic” man, a type of sun-dried body used by anatomists to study the muscles without removing the skin. Rosso Fiorentino, who designed the composition of this print to be engraved by Agostino Veneziano, was a Florentine contemporary of Michelangelo who planned a book on anatomy that was never published.
The opposite of the beautiful temptress, the hag embodied the nature of witchcraft. Old and hideous, the hag was associated with Invidia, the personification of Envy, because of her jealousy of youth and fertility. Agostino Veneziano provided designs for several widely disseminated prints of demonic imagery and witchcraft. In the Allegory of Death and Fame, Invidia is the skeletal creature peering over the right shoulder of winged Death. Her representation heavily influenced 17th-century artists' representations of hags. The stereotypical elderly witch with exposed, sagging breasts and sunken features is derived from the sinking, skeletal figures of Veneziano's frieze-like compositions.
Sheet: 30.9 x 50.8 cm (12 3/16 x 20 in.); Secondary Support: 41.2 x 61.2 cm (16 1/4 x 24 1/8 in.)
101A Prints & Drawings
Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), London, stamp (Lugt 2092), lower center, in black ; Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth, sold: Christie's, London, Dec. 5, 1985, lot 71, repr. ; purchased from (R.M. Light & Co., Santa Barbara, CA) (no date)